Hiking clears the mind. It's good for the soul and body - that's been scientifically proven. If you go on foot, you relax, forget the time and experience yourself once again completely different and new. It is especially beautiful when you walk through unique natural landscapes like the Hainich National Park and encounter rare animals and plants along the way. There's also a lot of unique nature in the Thuringian Forest, in the Eichsfeld-Hainich-Werratal Nature Park, in the Rhön Mountains or around the Kyffhäuser Mountains - and culture and traditions are never far away in the land of Luther, Schiller and Goethe.

1

Shrouded in legend - the Kyffhäuser Trail

The Kyffhäuser in northern Thuringia is a mountain full of secrets. Emperor Frederick I, also known as Barbarossa, is said to rest deep within, more than 800 years already. Tragically, the emperor, who ruled in the High Middle Ages, died during a crusade in Asia Minor. But rumors quickly spread that he was not dead at all, but enchanted and living with his court in an underground castle in the mountains of the Kyffhäuser. There he sits on a throne at a table and sleeps. Every 100 years, so the legend goes, he wakes up and sends a dwarf out to see if the ravens are still circling around the mountain. Only when an eagle flies around the mountain instead of the ravens, that is, when Germany is united, has the time come for a new reign of Emperor Barbarossa. If you know the history that surrounds this region, you will not wander here alone - the past is always with you. 

For a total of 37 kilometers, the Kyffhäuserweg the most beautiful approach you can have to the Mythenberg. It already starts in Bad Frankenhausen with its quiet alleys, small cafés and restaurants. From here, the three-day tour starts along the Kyffhäuser Trail. It leads west, past the Oberkirche church with what is surely the most leaning tower in all of Germany. And then it soon enters the forest.

The panoramic view from the Kyffhäuser Monument is indescribable

Geologically, the Kyffhäuser is not a mountain, but a small low mountain range. With its 400 meters height it rises from the flat land and what does not sound so high, can bring you on the way quite out of breath. As a reward, the views along the way are simply unbeatable. Just like from the Kyffhäuser monument. The 360-degree view is probably the most impressive you can have in Thuringia - of the towns of Kelbra, Sittendorf and Tilleda and across the country to the southern Harz.

And then there's the Kyffhäuser - more precisely, the Barbarossa Cave. The 13,000-square-meter cave is one of only two show caves in the world that exist in anhydrite rock, a type of gypsum rock. It is said to mark the entrance to Barbarossa's empire. The subterranean lakes here are so crystal clear that the ceiling is reflected and, if you look for a while, you no longer know which way is up. One thing is certain: no matter where you look on the Kyffhäuser Trail, Barbarossa seems to have left his mark everywhere. 

Those who prefer a short tour through the region can hike from Bad Frankenhausen to the Oberkirche, on to the Panorama Museum and via the Schlachtberg back to Bad Frankenhausen.

And this is how you get to Bad Frankenhausen by bus and train: Plan arrival.

2

Primeval forest pearl - the world heritage trail in Hainich

With 16,000 hectares, the Hainich is the largest contiguous deciduous forest in Germany and just under half of the area belongs to the national park. This part, through which also the almost ten-kilometer-long circular trail "World Heritage Trail" leads, was a restricted military area for decades. Some demanding forest inhabitants such as wildcat, pug bat, middle spotted woodpecker, head horned shrike (a stag beetle species), branched spiny beard (a mushroom) and the red woodland bird (a forest orchid species) live here. Since 2011, Hainich has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Ancient Beech Forests and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe".

The World Heritage Trail is one of four Thuringian primeval forest trails in the Hainich National Park near Eisenach. The first prominent point on the World Heritage Trail marked with the UNESCO diamond is an ancient stone cross - the Craula Cross. The parking lot where you start is named after it. From the stone cross, before entering the forest, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Thuringian Basin and the crest of the Thuringian Forest.

In spring the whole forest smells of wild garlic

The path then quickly leads into the forest and winds through a deep beech forest where nature is left to its own devices. The huge deciduous trees - mostly copper beech - are allowed to age naturally until they finally die and fall over. Hikes are especially beautiful in the spring, when the wild garlic blooms. On the way, one always has exciting insights into this primeval forest in the middle of Germany. After the turnaround at the Gänserasen, the trail leads through the Lange Tal, where fallen and decaying giant trees give an impression of life and decay in the forest. Soon the trail branches off onto the Sperbersgrundweg. Now the path leads up a 100-step wooden staircase, the so-called ladder to heaven, up a shell limestone slope. It goes past lying and standing dead wood, which is colonized by tinder fungus. The beech forest on the shell limestone ridge looks different, many trees grow curved there. Finally, the path meets the open area of the former military training area. Then it's back to the Craula cross.

By the way: Visitors have an equally beautiful, if not even better view from the treetop path. Over a length of 540 meters, the barrier-free path at Thiemsburg Castle winds through the treetops of the Hainich and offers guests an impressive perspective of the forest. During the tour, information boards provide a wealth of interesting facts about the flora and fauna of the Hainich National Park. Climbing elements inspire especially small visitors. From the 44 meter high lookout tower, there's a wide view over the treetops and the Thuringian Basin.

And this is how you get to Eisenach by train: Plan arrival.

3

Varied - the Leine-Werra Nature Park Trail

It is a place of peace and quiet. Up here on the Hülfensberg near Geismar, nature is not only fascinating, but also contemplative. The reason for this is the old, Gothic pilgrimage and monastery church with a Romanesque Jesus cross, which has stood on the "mountain of holy help" since 1367. But even for non-believers, the climb to the Hülfensberg is worthwhile for the incomparable view of the valleys and idyllic villages of the Eichsfeld region, which is part of the 87,000-hectare Eichsfeld-Hainich-Werratal Nature Park. It stretches from Heilbad Heiligenstadt in the north to Creuzburg in the south and combines three landscapes: rolling hills in the Eichsfeld, primeval beech forests in the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Hainich National Park and the Werra with its high limestone banks. 

The most beautiful is going through the middle on the Leine-Werra Nature Park Trail. For almost 100 kilometers, it runs along idyllic forest and field paths through the nature park, past nice villages, small churches and also past the Hülfensberg. The route can be divided into five daily stages. At the start, in Heilbad Heiligenstadt, a walk through the old town with its many historic half-timbered houses is worthwhile. Along the way, you'll pass highlights such as the Maienwand and the Dieterode Cliffs with their sweeping views over waving cornfields and the plateaus of the Eichsfeld. In Lengfeld, a very special attraction awaits visitors, but they should take an extra day for it: the trolley track. The rails run over the Lengfeld viaduct, which is up to 24 meters high, and through five tunnels.

Finally follows the path of the Werra

There are also numerous historic buildings along the way: among them the Zella Monastery from the year 1100, which is now a retirement home. The impressive inner courtyard is also open to visitors. The trail continues to the "Lindenhecke" lookout point. From here, hikers can see as far as the Hainich National Park look. Normannstein Castle, above Treffurt, offers the opportunity for a delicious meal in a rustic ambience at the end of the stage.  

The last stage of the day leads through the Werra Valley. The cozy little river meanders under limestone cliffs up to 100 meters high through the nature park. The steep slopes are habitat for many endangered animals and plants. In Creuzburg at the end of the tour, the colorful Middle Ages welcome you again: with a historic castle and the stone Werra Bridge. 

And this is how you get to the nature park by bus and train: Plan arrival.

4

Far view into the country - the Hochrhöner

Unforested heights with great views into the "land of open distances", as the Rhön is also called: You can experience these on the premium hiking trail "The Hochrhöner". It runs for 180 kilometers through Bavaria, Thuringia and Hesse. In Thuringia, the route runs for 65 kilometers through wild nature and an interesting cultural landscape with views into the idyllic Felda valley and as far as the brine spa of Bad Salzungen. The main trail includes 29 extra tours. These are circular routes that are suitable as half-day or day tours - five of which are in Thuringia.

On the way you will also meet the Rhönpaulus

The start of the hiking trail in the Thuringian Rhön is in the "village in the sky". This is Birx, the second highest village in the Rhön. From here, the trail continues to Kaltennordheim, over the Gläserberg to Dermbach, where it is worth visiting the Rhön Embassy, the restaurant of star chef Björn Leist. 400 years of history are hidden behind the facade of the half-timbered house, which also houses a hotel. Not far from the village of Glattbach, the Rhönpaulus is said to have lived. The notorious robber stands here today as a wooden figure on the village square - he was considered a kind of Robin Hood of the Rhön.  

Also worth seeing is the nature reserve Ibengarten. Here you will find yew trees that are up to 600 years old. A special attraction along the way is also Noah's sail, a 21-meter-high viewing platform that offers a panoramic view of the Rhön UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The destination of the tour is the spa town of Bad Salzungen.

And this is how you get to the starting point in Birx by bus and train: Plan arrival.

5

Along the water - the dam trail at the Zeulenroda Sea

In former times, before the construction of the two dams in the Weida Valley in the very east of Thuringia, there were numerous mills in the region. Today, hikers can learn about their history on the 45-kilometer long Dam path on information boards. You can also learn a lot of interesting facts about the habitats on the shore.

While the Zeulenroda Sea, as the southern dam is also called, is primarily for the recreational fun of guests and locals, the Weidatal Dam is a nature reserve where hikers encounter a diverse and barely touched landscape. 

On natural trails around the reservoirs

For example, numerous species of ducks, swans and great crested grebes live at the Piselsmühle forebay. On the two-day hike, you also have a wide view of the Weida Valley and the two reservoirs at many points, for example from the summit of the Teufelsberg, from the Grobisch or from the former ski jump Triebes. Over 80 percent of the trails are natural and can be walked at any time of the year.

Those who don't have so much time can also choose one of the three shorter circular routes along the dams, for example the one through Quingenberg and over the Teufelskanzel lookout point. And: The Zeulenroda Sea can not only be viewed from the hiking trail - a tour with a pedal boat or canoe is also worthwhile. Especially in the evening, when the setting sun is reflected in the water.

And this is how you get to the Zeulenrodaer Meer by bus and train: Plan arrival.

Thuringia's hiking trails offer fantastic views of the multifaceted state, like here from the Gläserberg © Regina Filler

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